MacroScope

Brazil set to release long-overdue jobless rate just as election race heats up

Workers at a General Motors vehicle factory listen during a meeting to discuss their reactions to an announcement of plans to put some 1,000 workers on paid leave, in Sao Jose dos CamposBrazil’s unemployment rate has been a mystery for months: a strike in the country’s statistics agency, ironically enough, disrupted its main job market survey. The numbers will finally come out in a few hours, less than two weeks before a tight presidential election, and will help voters understand just how bad the recently-confirmed recession has been.

IBGE’s August unemployment report is important not only because it can tilt Brazil’s election balance in favor of current President Dilma Rousseff or her opponent Marina Silva, but also because it will determine the starting point of the labor market for a much-anticipated adjustment in Brazil’s economic policy. Some kind of shift is expected after the October election regardless of who wins, to keep debt under control and avoid losing the investment grade in coming years.

Looking at market estimates, one can expect anything, apparently. The range of forecasts in a Reuters poll was about three times as wide as in previous months, going from 4.5 percent, near a record low, to 5.8 percent, which would be the highest for August in three years. Either the recession has spared the job market so far, in good news for re-election candidate Rousseff, or it is now a reality for thousands of workers across Latin America’s largest economy.

The median forecast is 4.9 percent, exactly the same rate reported in April. But some signs suggest a small increase is the most likely scenario, which would reinforce the outlook of a gradual but steady deterioration of one of the world’s strongest labor markets just a few years ago.

Although the job market numbers have been held off since April, data on four of the six urban areas surveyed has been released by statistics agency IBGE, including Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, the country’s largest cities.

Brazil’s economy: not as bad as it looked?

Brazil's President Rousseff looks on during a news conference to present the balance of the 2014 World Cup in Brasilia

Brazil’s economy may have grown by 3 percent in 2012, three times as much as originally reported, according to an ongoing review of GDP data that could solve one of the biggest economic puzzles since the global financial crisis.

If accurate, estimates from local consultancy LCA would help explain why unemployment remained so low and consumer prices failed to ease when Latin America’s economy looked so weak.

It would also suggest that President Dilma Rousseff and the central bank might have jumped the gun as they slashed interest rates and offered dozens of costly subsidies and tax cuts to jump-start an economy that may not have needed any stimulus at all.

El Niño may not give Brazil much to worry about on food prices

File photo of loaded soybean truck for BRAZIL SOY.

Now that Brazilian food prices are finally settling down, it looks like El Niño will strike back in a couple of months to throw the world’s weather into disarray.

Bad news for Brazil’s Finance Minister, Guido Mantega?

Not necessarily.

It could just as easily be a blessing, economists say. The changes in climate patterns caused by warmer Pacific waters could actually be a boon for Brazilian soy and corn producers while not necessarily disrupting other crops.

It is not clear yet if the El Niño phenomenon will happen this year – the odds are high at about 70 percent, according to the U.S. and Australian weather agencies.

Don’t stop fighting inflation, banks tell Brazil policymakers

Brazil's Central Bank President Tombini reacts during a ceremony to announce Measures of Consumer Protection at the Planalto Palace in Brasilia

A small piece of good news on Brazil’s inflation rate last week probably gave the central bank its best pretext yet to finally stop raising interest rates after more than one year of non-stop increases. But economists still think it’s too early to proclaim “mission accomplished”.

Keeping interest rates at the current 11 percent will do little to reduce inflation in the months ahead, economists at Itau Unibanco, Santander and Bank of America Merrill Lynch said, despite a smaller-than-expected increase in consumer prices last month.

Their pessimistic outlook contrasts with the central bank’s, which has signaled it is willing to stop raising rates soon by saying that the 375-point increase since April last year was “sizable” and is yet to have a meaningful effect.

Firing up Brazil’s economy

A hot, dry spell in southeastern Brazil has pushed up energy prices, stretched government finances and raised the threat of water rationing in its largest city, Sao Paulo, just months before it hosts one of the world’s largest sport events, the soccer World Cup.

It looks like the last thing Brazil needed as it scrambles to woo investors and avoid a credit downgrade.

But if the scattered rains that started to pour down over the past few days bring in continued relief through March, the heat could actually prove to be a much-needed boost for Brazil’s economy, research firm LCA found.

Brazil’s need for dollars to shrink in 2014 – but the long-term view remains bleak

Brazil’s current account deficit will probably narrow this year. That may sound as a reassuring (or rather optimistic) forecast after the recent sharp sell-off in emerging markets, which prompted Turkey to raise interest rates dramatically to 12 percent from 7.75 percent in a single shot on Tuesday. But that was the outlook of three major banks – HSBC, Credit Suisse and Barclays - in separate research published earlier this week.

The gap, a measure of the extra foreign resources Brazil needs to pay for the goods and services it buys overseas, will probably shrink to 3.0-3.4 percent of GDP in 2014, from 3.7 percent last year, they said.

“Brazil’s external vulnerabilities are overstated,” claims Barclays’ Sebastian Brown, adding: “the central bank’s FX intervention program should limit bouts of excessive BRL weakness.”

Emerging wobbles

This week will go a long way to determining whether a violent emerging market shake-out turns into a prolonged panic or is limited to a flight of hot money that quickly fizzles out.

On our patch, Turkey is under searing pressure, largely of its own making and that is the theme here. Yes, the Federal Reserve’s slowing of money printing is the common factor, prompting funds to quit emerging markets, but it is those countries with acute problems of their own that are really under the cosh.

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s purging of the police and judiciary in response to a corruption inquiry that has got uncomfortably close to him has unnerved investors. The central bank, under political pressure, has not raised interest rates but is instead burning through its reserves to defend the lira with only limited success.

from Global Investing:

Watanabes shop for Brazilian real, Mexican peso

Are Mr and Mrs Watanabe preparing to return to emerging markets in a big way?

Mom and pop Japanese investors, collectively been dubbed the Watanabes, last month snapped up a large volume of uridashi bonds (bonds in foreign currencies marketed to small-time Japanese investors),  and sales of Brazilian real uridashi rose last month to the highest since July 2010, Barclays analysts say, citing official data.

Just to remind ourselves, the Watanabes have made a name for themselves as canny players of the interest rate arbitrage between the yen and various high-yield currencies. The real was a red-hot favourite and their frantic uridashi purchases in 2007 and 2009-2011 was partly behind Brazil's decision to slap curbs on incoming capital. Their ardour has cooled in the past two years but the trade is far from dead.

With the Bank of Japan's money-printing keeping the yen weak and pushing down yields on domestic bonds, it is no surprise that the Watanabes are buying more foreign assets. But if their favourites last year were euro zone bonds (France was an especially big winner)  they seem to be turning back towards emerging markets, lured possibly by the improvement in economic growth and the rising interest rates in some countries. And Brazil has removed those capital controls.

Too early to call revival in Latin America manufacturing

It may be too early to herald a revival of Latin America’s manufacturing following a recent currency decline, according to a report by London-based research firm Capital Economics.

Increased competitiveness of local factories has been seen as a good side effect of the currency shock triggered by prospects of reduced economic stimulus in the United States. However, the data compiled by Capital Economics suggests there is still a long way to go before investors see any fireworks.

David Rees, emerging markets economist at Capital Economics, wrote in his report:

For workers, the long run has arrived in Latin America

The outlook for emerging market economies over the next decade looks more challenging as long-term interest rates start to bottom out in the United States. Here is another complicating factor: ageing populations.

That problem is not as serious as in Japan or Europe, of course. Still, investors probably need to cut down their expectations for economic growth in Latin America over the next years, according to a report by BNP Paribas.

The graphic below shows the declining demographic contribution for economic growth in Latin American countries. The trend is particularly bad in Chile, Venezuela and Brazil: